By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
It would be incorrect to say that I look forward to Remembrance Day. In fact, I wish it didn’t exist, in the sense I wish war was something completely foreign to our society. Because it isn’t, we must remember those who have served and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
All this said, I consider it a special honour to take part in gatherings that call us to stop and think about those men and women who answered the call.
My first memories of Remembrance Day are at the Cenotaph in Wingham, as a young boy. It seemed the entire town was in attendance and while I didn’t appreciate the breadth of importance attached to the memorial, I clearly understood that it was a special time honouring special people.
Fast forward to 1996 in Redcliff, Alberta. As a newly minted Legion Padre, I was asked to march from the Legion to the Cenotaph with the assembled veterans. I didn’t think much about it, until we began to move. Men who were twice my age marched in perfect step and at a pace that kept me challenged to maintain. As I remember, it was more than cold that day, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed.
My time as a Legion Padre provided me with the distinct privilege of listening to those who knew the horrors of war first hand. Oft I have heard it said that those who went to war didn’t talk about it much. But I learned quickly that as the end of their tour in this life approached, there was a need to tell another human being about the experience and there were times I was chosen to learn the story.
I have since journeyed with many veterans through life and death. I have seen first hand the tears well in their eyes as they think of those who walked with them on the battlefield, especially those who didn’t come home with them. I have sensed the anguish of the painful memories, the fear that still lives deep in their souls. As veterans grow older, they march a little slower, but always with a sense of pride and honour.
George, Red, Bob, Ed, Earl, Frank, Doris, Ruth, Gordon and Jack. These are but a few of the names. Memories, stories, families, loved ones, funerals, tributes, poppies, hope, despair, pride: these words all stir something in my spirit as I think of those whose lives have intersected with mine, whose faith has encouraged mine, whose pain has moved my tears.
Time has a way of soothing our memories so that the sharp emotions are somehow mulled. When I was but a lad, we all went to remember because the War was just a decade or two removed from reality. Now, as the number of those who marched through the hell of battle in far away lands, fades to just a few, we seem to have misplaced the call to remember, to appreciate, to say thank you. Maybe I too have become less diligent, less willing to find the time to stop and think and say thank you. But then a story comes to mind, a veterans face slides into my vision, I remember the march, the pipes, the prayers, the bugle. And then I do remember.
A few years ago, I came across a song called “In Color” by Jamey Johnson. Warning it is a little more old school country than many would like. But in the words, the emotions, the pictures, the colours that Johnson shares, I find the story of a generation almost gone; a reminder of what they did, who they were, the love they shared and the pain they bore. Perhaps you might find it and listen. Maybe even on Remembrance Day.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning. We will remember them.
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.